Blade Runner is based on a Philip K. Dick novel, the first of many of Dick works to be adapted for the big screen. In 2019 Los Angeles, the world (or LA, at least) is a very different place. For starters, American culture in Los Angeles appears on the verge of being consumed by Japanese culture. There are other little things, too, like flying cars and space colonies, but the big difference between here and now and 2019 is the existence of replicants. Replicants are genetically engineered beings that look like fully grown humans, but can have superior intelligence, strength, or appearances; since they are potentially so powerful and nearly indistinguishable from humans, replicants are outlawed on Earth, and can only live in the space colonies. When some replicants steal a spaceship (killing every human aboard) and head to Los Angeles, what are the local police to do?
Blade Runner is, in a very literal way, a detective story, but there's a lot more depth to it than you might expect from a typical crime and capture tale. First off, Blade Runner is an excellent example of modern noir; the story is plot-driven, the characters are unemotional, and the film is full of shadows. There is also a healthy dose of paranoia in the movie, as the other characters all seem to know something Deckard does not. I think that the film's strength lies in its storytelling; the plot is pretty clear and the story has a satisfactory ending, but there are subtleties to the script that add ambiguity to certain issues and raise questions about others. The obvious question (that I don't want to spoil for you), "Is Deckard a replicant?" can be argued convincingly from both sides, and I think that's pretty cool. It's nice to see a science fiction movie that is not about a dystopian future, but is instead a story merely set in the future. After all, the future can't always suck.
The performances in this film are generally pretty good. Harrison Ford is a likable tough guy and I enjoy watching him play intelligent characters. Rutger Hauer definitely had the meatiest supporting role; he was genuinely unsettling, playing such a calm and collected character with such rage inside him. Most of the other actors served their purpose, but some of them had just a little touch of something special. Sean Young had a bizarre hairstyle and made the most of her character's subtle, but complicated emotions; Edward James Olmos could have been a stereotypical cop, but they gave him a bizarre 2019 language to speak, a blend of English, Japanese, and (I think) a Slavic language; William Sanderson was surrounded by a creepy assortment of "living" toys; even Daryl "I'm a better actress when I don't speak" Hannah had some very interesting makeup. The rest of the cast is noteworthy, but James Hong, Brion James, and Joe Turkel didn't add anything special to their roles.
Ridley Scott did a fantastic job coming up with this futuristic world. Sure, he handled the actors well enough (particularly Hauer and Young), but the details that went into this movie are most impressive. It's hard to put a finger on exactly what details stand out, though. The weird Olmos language is certainly one, as is the Japanification of LA (if they really have street-side Asian noodle stands in 2019, I'm moving West!), but even the building designs are noticeably out-of-time, but still plausible. I also liked the use of space to convey tone; busy streets sometimes helped develop a feeling of confusion or panic, but empty streets or rooms could imply danger, loneliness, or power. Scott has an excellent eye for cinematography, so it shouldn't be surprising that the film looks great.
I should point out that this version of Blade Runner is the most recent version to be released; all in all, there are four cuts of the film available on DVD (all in the same package, too), with three or four other cuttings floating around somewhere. The Final Cut makes some pretty significant changes to the original theatrical film, and many of the changes are noticeable from the Director's Cut, too. I will tell you right now, though, not to waste your first viewing of Blade Runner on anything but The Final Cut. The picture is far clearer than the previous versions, many technical problems are cleaned up, and several previously ambiguous moments are given clearer direction. Each version of the movie is interesting, but The Final Cut is clearly the best of the bunch.
It's difficult for me to explain exactly why Blade Runner impresses me so much. It's well-shot, well-acted, and well-produced, it has depth and subtlety and a few "what the hell?" moments that make sense only if you choose to put some thought into the movie. Plus, it inspired some of the lyrics to White Zombie's "More Human Than Human." Yeah, that must be why this is a classic. Yeeeeah!